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Spiritual healing of HIV gains ground

Cameroon | Health & Religion

S. Dji, 29, is a young Cameroonian entrepreneur who says she is living proof of the fact that God can cure HIV.

Ten years ago, she was diagnosed HIV positive, but she was determined not to give up on life because of her HIV status. She moved on to university and while in university she got “born again” and joined a Pentecostal assembly.

“I was taught on the realities of new birth, and that as a Christian I had a new identity and old things were gone away. I also learnt about divine healing. The more I learnt about all these, the more I got faith that I could be cured of HIV,” she says.

Dji intially kept her HIV status secret, but she found out her new community of Christians could be trusted. So she shared her prayer request for healing with a few friends who committed to praying with her.

A couple of months after being born again, Dji went for another test, and this time the results were negative. She shared her testimony with her Christian community, waving her test results to the congregation. “I have been healed through prayers and faith in the belief that Jesus bore my diseases,” Dji says.

Dji says she is not on ARVs because she doesn’t have HIV, but when or if she gets malaria, or any other illness, she goes to the hospital for medication.

According to USAID statistics, sub-Saharan Africa continues to bear an inordinate share of the global HIV burden: 23 million people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWH) make their homes in the region. Though the number of new infections on the continent seems to have peaked in the mid-1990s, the epidemic continues to be a major challenge to the health and development of most African nations.

The epidemics vary considerably from country to country across the continent, from a low of 0.1 percent in Madagascar to more than 15 percent in some of the countries in the southern cone. Deaths from HIV/AIDS continue to decline as antiretroviral (ARV) therapy coverage increases, along with improved prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Responding to questions about spiritual healing and the impact on the lives of PLWH, Ekoume Irene, Social Counselor and Project animator of SERH–PE-WO (project to enhance sexual and reproductive health of PLWH) says, “The health of some of our clients declined sharply when they were encouraged in healing centers and places of worship to stop taking the antiretroviral drugs in the belief that God would heal them.”

She says, when pastors and traditional-medicine specialists emphasize prayer and herbal remedies over ARV treatment, it undermines the medical system.

Irene works for the Cameroon National Association for Family Welfare (CAMNAFAW) and her organization coordinates eight support groups for PLWH. She says “when PLWH combine faith, optimism and their ARVs the results are awesome”.

She adds that believe and faith in God is important for everyone, including PLWH, but the teaching PLWH to throw away their ARVs as proof of their faith in God is not sound advice. And she believes it should be confronted. While health care workers recognize the healing power of faith and its ability to strengthen the body, they deter patients’ beliefs that they will get better based on prayer, herbal remedies, and spirituality alone.

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